Findings on Campus Climate and Our Action Steps
Nov. 14, 2019
Dear Brandeis Community,
Guided by our founding values, Brandeis is committed to fulfilling what we hold as a special responsibility to set a high standard in the way we respond to those who have endured sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other experiences on campus that make them feel excluded from our community.
To better understand what our students experience, and improve the ways in which the university responds, we conducted the second Brandeis University Campus Climate Survey in March. The survey was distributed electronically to all undergraduate and graduate students to help us better understand students’ attitudes, experiences, and opinions of sexual misconduct on our campus. It asked questions about how frequently survey respondents, since coming to Brandeis, have experienced sexual violence, witnessed derogatory comments about aspects of people's identity, reported sexual misconduct, and taken action to stand up and protect others. We also asked questions about a sense of community, and trust in the university’s ability to respond to a crisis. We are deeply grateful to the 1,148 students, about 22 percent of our student body, who responded to the survey. The full Campus Climate Survey Report, including a summary of the findings, is now available on the Brandeis Office of the Provost website.
What the survey shows about sexual harassment and misconduct is disturbing and deeply troubling. The results remind us that preventing sexual assault and supporting survivors requires the focused work of all of us, not just those of us who are designated by job title to grapple with these issues. Importantly, they show how those in our community who belong to groups who have historically experienced more violence in our society are more likely to experience sexual violence, and are less likely to report it. The survey findings also demonstrate that despite our historical commitment to social justice and inclusion, harassment based on race and gender occurs within our community more frequently than it should.
Many of the results of the 2019 survey remain stubbornly and disappointingly consistent with those from the first campus-wide climate survey at Brandeis, conducted in 2015. Key findings for 2019 include:
- Among undergraduate survey respondents, 10 percent of men, 21 percent of women, and 36 percent of gender nonconforming individuals experienced some form of sexual assault, including inappropriate sexual touching, fondling, grabbing, and groping. In the 2015 survey, 5 percent of men, 22 percent of women, and 35 percent of “trans*/other” respondents said they had been sexually assaulted (gender categories in the survey changed from 2015 to 2019).
- In the 2019 survey, 2 percent of undergraduate men responding and 6 percent of undergraduate women responding indicated they have been raped since becoming a student at Brandeis. In the 2015 survey, 1 percent of undergraduate men and 6 percent of undergraduate women respondents indicated they had been raped. (The response rate from gender non-conforming respondents was so low that in order to protect anonymity the data were not made public.)
- Students who identified as gender nonconforming were far more likely to experience a host of unwanted behaviors, including assault and harassment, as compared to students who identified as men or women.
- Students were far less likely to formally report sexual assault than they were to tell someone about it informally. According to the survey, 82 percent of undergraduates who experienced some form of sexual assault told someone, but only 13 percent formally reported it. Among graduate students, 81 percent told someone, but fewer than five people responding to the survey said they reported it. Only 47 percent of undergraduate students responding and 56 percent of graduate students responding said they understood what happened when someone reported a sexual assault at Brandeis.
There were two important areas in which we did see some progress from 2015: More undergraduate students and far more graduate student respondents said they knew where to go on campus to report and get help for sexual assault. Also, a significantly higher percentage of students reported that they had intervened when they saw a friend attempting to hook up with someone who had passed out, or that they interrupted when someone told a racist, sexist, or homophobic joke. Over the past four years, we have placed an emphasis on improving the student orientation experience and bystander training. We believe the increase in interventions and the findings of the survey highlight the value of continuing and enhancing the training the university offers.
Around the same time we conducted our survey, the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which we are a member, conducted similar surveys at 33 member institutions. The AAU survey focused solely on sexual misconduct, while ours asked additional questions about our campus climate. Where the two surveys asked about comparable experiences, many results were similar. But we take no comfort in this.
Brandeis was founded in 1948 to provide access to higher education to students who were being denied the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential. However, when members of our community experience sexual harassment; sexual assault; or degradation on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation, the resulting climate creates a denial of access to higher education. Students cannot freely engage with ideas and reach their fullest potential if they are worried about their personal safety; are fearful of harassment; believe they are being marginalized; or are unsure about where to find advice, support, and protection.
For more detail and context about the findings, we urge you to read the report, which begins with a detailed executive summary. We also want to update you on important steps the university has taken recently, and remind you of ways to access help and support as a survivor or a bystander.
Recent steps taken to improve support, advocacy, and education
- The Support at Brandeis website was recently designed to consolidate links that help all members of our community find support for a variety of needs.
- The Prevention, Advocacy, and Resource Center (PARC) can also be reached through the Support at Brandeis site or at 781-736-3370, 24 hours a day. Last year, PARC was contacted by significantly more individuals than during any previous year, and its Violence Prevention Educators provided more than 70 sessions of bystander training as well as training in supporting survivors and other topics.
- The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which oversees a variety of key departments, can connect students with resources that help them make their organizations more diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces. It oversees the Ombuds Office, the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Intercultural Center, and the Office of Equal Opportunity, four resources that have been established or expanded over the past year.
- The Ombuds Office offers confidential support and informal dispute resolution to students, faculty, and staff – this can include advice on steps you can take if you have experienced sexual misconduct or advice on any difficult situation or conflict you are experiencing at Brandeis. During the past academic year, 213 community members visited the Ombuds Office, which now includes one full-time staff member and two part-time staff members.
- The Gender and Sexuality Center, which has experienced some staffing transitions, is now staffed with an interim director (with a full-time director to come on board in the next year) to provide support and resources to LGBTQIA+ students. We intend to continue supporting this office with the staffing needed.
How to report misconduct
- The Report It! site, launched a year ago, offers students ways to report a variety of misconduct, including sexual assault and harassment.
- The Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) is responsible for addressing all issues of discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct within the Brandeis community. Since June, the OEO has trained more than 2,700 community members about university policy related to discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct. These trainings have reviewed policies, support services, reporting obligations, and where to go to report. Making a report to OEO can be done through the Report It! site.
We want to encourage students to engage with the survey, and we will make key staff members available to answer questions about the results. We have also scheduled two listening sessions: on Friday, November 15, at noon at the Intercultural Center, and on Sunday, November 17, at 4:00 p.m. at the Gender and Sexuality Center.
Everyone on our campus must be able to study, work, and live in an environment free from harassment and sexual misconduct. We will use these data to improve the university’s current practices. We remain committed to equipping everyone in our community with the means to intervene and support survivors. And we must all work on addressing sexual misconduct and the pernicious effects of harassment and exclusion on members of our community. We know there is more work to be done and we invite you to share your ideas with us on how to ensure that all students stay safe and feel part of our community by contacting us directly or responding to this email (please note this would not be an anonymous communication). If you wish to make an anonymous report, please use the Report It! site.
Ron Liebowitz, President
Lisa M. Lynch, Provost
Mark Brimhall Vargas, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, Vice Provost of Student Affairs